The summer of 2000 was busy planning school tours and watching pumpkins grow. We had lived on the farm in our new unfinished house for not even a full year yet. Our children were so excited to help and so were our families and our new friends.
We were at the beginning of watching a dream unfold but honestly we didn’t even know what the full dream was. Shortly before Milt and I married, I clearly felt that nudge (almost a push) from the Lord that said…go back to Milt’s family farm. We had a small vision for some kind of pumpkin patch or maybe even an orchard, but when we thought about his home place, we didn’t originally think it was the right location. We even began to explore looking in other places for a farm to purchase. But none of them seemed right. And we didn’t really have the money to think about buying the ones that might be a better choice. Finally my Dad wisely asked, what is wrong with the farm in Hopkinsville?
So Milt mustered up the nerve to go ask his father. Milt is the baby of six children. His older brother is handicapped and his four sisters really didn’t have a plan to come farm. Ed Corley had always hoped his son would come home and farm, so he took Milt to the attorney’s office and transferred the land into Milt’s name.
Milt was working for an orchard and explained to his boss that he was leaving his job to begin farming on his family farm. (We had been married all of 4 months!) His boss was really disappointed that Milt was leaving and a bit concerned about how he would support his family. When his boss asked him how he planned to run his farm, Milt answered with the words of a new believer, “I guess we will just do it the Christian way.” That evening he told me he thought he had the name for our farm and thus Christian Way Farm was born!
As 1997 came to a close, we talked and dreamed and prayed about our launch into a new year and this wild journey and Milt gave me a small framed sign that said Christian Way Farm: Established 1998. January 1, 1998, as I opened my devotional, the verse on the top of the page said, “We walk by Faith and not by sight…” Oh how true those words were. We truly had only a small glimpse of a vision and what felt like mustard seed size faith, but we followed what we thought to be God’s direction.
So much happened between that January morning and that first tour on September 19, 2000, but we watched God do incredible things to get us to that point.
Our families helped us clean up the old home place and build our home. We worked at cleaning up the areas of the farm we wanted to use and tried to imagine what a field trip should look like. The summer of 2000, Milt planted a crop of pumpkins and a field of corn for the corn maze. I began to research and try to understand how pumpkins grew as I needed something educational to tell the students. A friend helped me make a board with photos of pumpkins at their various stages and I found a children’s book that talked about pumpkins. We cleaned out the old tobacco barn and set up a story time area with straw bales for benches on the back side of the barn.
From an old sign-making stencil kit, we fashioned signs painted on old barn wood. We called the Christian County school board office and talked with them about how to advertise to the schools that we were offering trips to the farm. A friend designed a brochure and we delivered them to the all the county public and private schools.
As we thought about having pumpkins and a corn maze, we realized a trip to the farm would not be complete without some animals. And we had none, except the wildlife that roamed the farm, a dog and our neighbor’s dog who was a regular visitor to the farm. We were running out of time and frankly didn’t have the money to buy animals, so we talked to people in the community.
Soon we were able to borrow—two cows, two sheep and two goats. Milt fashioned some temporary fencing and we made a place to bring the animals to their temporary home. We were close to being ready, but we knew we had one more very important thing to do.
Our new friends at church heard all about our dreams for this farm and they were excited for us. We invited these families to the farm. We shared more about our dream, but there was more unknown than there was known! We explained we are just walking in faith here…
So our friends walked the farm and then circled up and prayed over the farm and they believed with us. They encouraged us and gave us the confidence we needed to keep going. They asked the Lord to expand our borders, to protect us, to prosper us and keep His Hand on us. These friends were a bit older than us and wiser than us, but they loved us and saw the potential for God to do what only God can do.
And He did. The morning came for the first tour. Our children stayed home from school and we greeted that group of 3rdgraders on the morning of Sept 19, 2000. The school was St. Peter and Paul and the teacher was Mrs. Norma Folz. We arranged for the parents and students to park in the field across from the driveway and met them with our tractor and hayride. We loaded up and traveled to the top of the hill.
Storytime, seated on straw bales, on the back of the farm. A porta potty. One corn sheller and the tractor set up with the corn cracker. 3 temporary fences with the six animals, a giant pumpkin patch, a scraggly little corn maze and a hay castle!!!
That was it… I was afraid the students would hurt themselves using the corn sheller so I demonstrated. The children circled around me and just watched. We ground some corn and fed the animals. At some point, we picked pumpkins and wandered thru the corn maze.
I am sure the group ate lunch and played on the castle before we loaded up on the hayride wagon to return back down the driveway to their cars. I think what happened in the next few minutes caused a fog over my memory of the other details of that first trip. As we drove down the driveway, the trailer became unhitched from the tractor….. Suddenly Milt realized that the hitch was riding up the backside of the tractor and thankfully the tractor stopped the trailer from rolling down the hill.
We were all safe, but the enormity of that situation was like a kick in the gut to us. Parents brought their cars to the tractor and we unloaded students and pumpkins and we sent them on their way. We thought sure our season had just come to an end… I remember crying after they left and thanking the Lord for protecting us, but we both felt as if we had just come from the worst car wreck ever. We ached from head to toe, our heads pounded and we felt physically sick. What are we doing??
And then we realized—the enemy… he’s real and he doesn’t want us doing this. We are going to learn from this mistake and we are going to keep going. Milt found someone with a mobile welder. He cut the hitch off of the wagon and welded on a different, safer type hitch and they added every conceivable safety chain you can imagine. This was never happening again on the farm!! (and I assure you it has not!!)
We ended that season with over 1800 students and teachers coming to visit the farm. It was just the beginning of this path in our walk of faith…
As we wrap up this story on the anniversary of our first school tour, I want to also pay tribute to Mrs. Norma Folz who went Home to Jesus just this year. She was such an encourager to us for all the years following that momentous tour. She believed in us and came back with her students every year she was able during her years of teaching. Every time she called to schedule a tour, we felt we had been given the greatest compliment yet. After such a tour, to know that she came back year after year was part of the confidence we needed to believe we might be doing something right.
There have been so many teachers, and parents and students in 22 years and so many stories! And through it all—God. He has walked us thru the seasons of hot and cold and wet and dry. Through great crops and dismal crops. And all of this in the midst of the craziness of the world we live in, from the season of 9/11 to the years of no school tours because of a “pandemic.”
But God….if there is one thing we have learned…follow Him…walk by faith…because His Vision is far greater than ours ever would have been and He will do abundantly more than we even know how to believe or ask. For these 25 years together as we dreamed and worked to open the doors 22 years ago we know beyond a shadow of a doubt: it’s all Jesus. He blessed and we are eternally grateful to Him and to all of you who came…
So we are praying for many more! We are excited to see many of you this fall and look forward to this being our greatest season yet! Thanks be to Jesus, the One whose path we choose to follow!